Gimme a Break

Book page reads "Chapter One: The Restless Beginning"

Chapter One - 1/365 by jamiesrabbits / CC BY 2.0

Mystery writer Riley Adams blogs about life, writing and chapters. OK, well, her blog isn’t really about chapters. Just this once. She’s discusses her method for breaking her book into chapters.

Growing up, I always thought chapters had a magical quality. Mom would read one chapter a night. I could always put off doing my homework/chores by promising to do it right after I finished a chapter.

And that’s how I wrote my earliest multi-page stories: with chapters very much in mind.  I assumed that’s the way all author’s wrote. That as surely as beautiful prose sprung from their pens fully formed, chapters announced themselves. I was very upset when I didn’t instinctively know where chapters were supposed to be. Some were obvious, most were elusive. That was true in middle school and it’s true today.

However, with Julia, I’m trying to write straight through without worrying about chapters. Sometimes, I’ll hit upon what seems like an irrisistablely cliffhanger-like break and I’ll mark it (when I say cliffhanger, I mean the “ooh, I wonder what happens next” variety, not the “the hero has discovered the bomb but there is only two seconds left and everyone knows that it takes at least three to defuse bombs like this” kind). However, that leaves me with about 3 chapters in the 100 pages and big black plot hole I have so far. 33.3333 pages per chapter seems a bit dense, but I’m going to wait until I finish editing the entire draft before I go back to chapter-ize it. I will wait. I will wait. I will wait. If I don’t it will be just another sly procrastination tool in my ever expanding arsenal.

I read somewhere that a chapter should resolve the cliffhanger from the previous chapter, then build up to another cliffhanger. This is because chapters are a remanent of newspaper/magazine serialized stories. The author always wanted to end their allotted word count with a cliffhanger to ensure that readers would buy the next week’s issue.  Realizing that chapters are purely artifice for selling more copies or getting your readers to the end of the book does make the whole process less magical and finite, so it should be a little easier to just break up the prose willie-nillie…when the time comes (although fails to answer the question of how long a chapter should be…answers and suggestions welcomed in comments).

Of course, I can’t remember where I read this piece of trivia, so it could all be made up by gremlins in my mind.


One thought on “Gimme a Break

  1. Emily

    They may have come about as a way to sell more serials, but chapters are great little chunks of story. Natural breaks in the prose, so I can get up, go to the bathroom, go to work or even to sleep in the middle of a book.

    And, it makes sense, since a lot of the novels from years past were originally published in installments in magazines.

    Anyway… here’s a Kit-Kat!

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